Tag Archives: asilo

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Vitalis’ story

My name Vitalis and I did not want to come to this country. I did not pay any ticket, I chose the sea when the soldiers of Gaddafi, with gun pressed on my face, asked to choose between a boat and a bullet. Leave or die. I was exhausted when I arrived in Lampedusa, the journey had lasted five days and I was wondering what my future would be, it was enough for me to be with my feet on dry land, with the sea behind. I spent two months in the center of Manduria and they told us that this was a temporary destination, we had to be patient, they took our fingerprints and we were given a number. Then one day, with the buses we have been moved to Piedmont, in Settimo Torinese. Our new home was called Hotel Giglio.

At the time Giglio was always empty, we could survive, but every day we were not alive. We had a bed and hot meals and days were all the same but we are not farm animals, we are men. On January 23, the revolt broke out, we were exasperated by the smallest things, that day we blocked the road outside the hotel and the police arrived, the people working there all ran away but we did not want to hurt anyone, just wanted to shout that we are also men, who want to live. After the revolt I have been expelled from Giglio, it was cold in those days and I found that many people like me were on their way. The camps were closing, and we who came from Libya we stood in the streets, in train stations to freeze.
When they told me that a group of refugees was thinking of occupying some blocks of flats, and there were Italians willing to help, I wanted to join them because I do not want to be cared for, I want the opportunity to take care of myself, to feel that I am to decide about my future.

Today, these homes are a small Africa, we are here in six hundred people, we come from 25 different countries and we are learning to live together. At first Ghanaians wanted to be alone with Ghanaians and did not trust anyone else, and so it was for Nigerians and Malians and Eritreans. Now Ethiopians and Tuareg are drinking tea together, Sudanese and Ghanaian divide the expenses and meals. We are all equal here, we’re the ones who came from Libya, the survivors. Even now it is not simple, we live without hot water and no heating, but this is our home and not just a place to stay because from here we stopped being treated like children and we are ready to fight for our rights and the our dignity.

Vitalis is 28 years old and comes from Nigeria, arrived in Lampedusa on August 13, 2011. After the closure of the Emergency reception centers in North Africa , it was found in the street while being beneficiary of international protection . Along with hundreds of other refugees gave birth in the city of Turin employment population EX MOI where he currently resides.

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Looking for a place for happiness

My name is Samuel and I hope that at least this is my place. First I was at  Yaoundé in Cameroon, I lived in a house on the first floor, in the market area. Down below I sold shirts, trousers, clothes of all sorts. The people in the market all knew me and I knew everyone. When the government decided to build a new trunk road we found that our houses and shops were all going to be demolished. So we decided to protest, all the tradespeople of the area, all together, to ask for another place to go at least. The government didn’t like that and I discovered in a few hours that I had become a political criminal.

I fled my country at night and made my way to Nigeria. God couldn’t have abandoned me. Perhaps he just wanted to tell me, I kept repeating to myself, that that wasn’t my place.

In Libya I decided to stop. No, I had never thought that it was the right place, but it had been on the move for months, I had crossed Nigeria, Niger and Algeria, I was exhausted and completely broke. I learned the trade of plasterer and did stucco work, I liked working as a decorator, I fell in love with a woman and we went and lived together. In Libya a foreigner can be almost happy, happy no. There was work, but there was nothing else for us, the Arabs call us Africans, as if they weren’t Arabs too. I didn’t care, all I was worried about was putting together a bit of money in order to go away and start again somewhere else. [twitter_share]You never know when it’s going to be the last day, in the morning you go out and when you return in the evening there is just a crater and rubble and dust.[/twitter_share]

They say it was a missile but who launched it and why I have never found out.

When the war broke out, even the Africans became the enemy: the rebels accused us of being Gaddafi’s militiamen, the royalists of fighting with the rebels. Anyone we encountered would have good reasons to kill us, so we escaped again, always at night. During the crossing I didn’t think of anything, all I kept repeating to myself was that Libya was not my place. From Tripoli to Lampedusa it was a quiet crossing, and after a night at sea, with the first light of day we landed on the island. I remember the Red Cross people and lots of people running up and down the jetty.

Italy is not what I imagined it to be, there’s no work and at times they look at you on the bus as if you were not welcome. But I think that perhaps this is my place, that there must be a sense to all this, that perhaps I am here for my brothers, for our rights. Perhaps I’m also here to tell my story, so that it isn’t forgotten.

Samuel P. arrived in Italy in 2011. When the North Africa emergency programme finished he found himself in the street again and without a home, despite the fact that he had regular refugee status. He and another hundred or so refugees in the city of Turin have occupied the EX MOI buildings where he lives at present.

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I thought ‘it would be terrible for my mother to lose two sons in the same night’, and I left my brother behind.

It was the Italians that built my town, Elabaned, in Eritrea, where I was born 28 years ago. Just in case you’ve forgotten, we were your colony. I’m the first migrant in my family and I’m a marine biologist. I used to spend my days talking with fish, sectioning algae, studying the routes of the shoals of fish, analysing microorganisms in the sea. Day after day I would collect secrets from the waves as the wind played on them. But what there was beyond the sea was what I didn’t know yet, and what I didn’t ask. That was the last mystery to be revealed. To do that, there was no alternative.

I thought I knew the sea and I would observe it from above, from the land. I had to do it for my country when I did my military service, which starts when you are 18 and ends when you are in the grave. My wages were zero, sometimes less than zero. There was no alternative to that, either.

So I started walking. I was lucky because I knew in what direction to go. After 3 days of dust and sun, without stopping, I arrived in the Sudan.  My brother Samuel, who was a mechanic, lived there. Twenty-five years spent hoping. 1,600  dollars a head is the price of hope as far as Tripoli, Libya, and my brother and I made it there. Locked up in a house with another 500 Eritreans, surrounded by men with rifles, we waited. Yes, it was terrible. But I put up with it, because there was no other alternative.

There was the sea in the town, but I didn’t see it. I remained there for one month without even going out to look for it. All 500 of us left the house together: another $1,600, the cost of a second hope on board a fishing vessel. After hours spent in the sea, two boats appeared out of the night. One of them circled around us at a distance of twenty metres or so. And all 500 of us, in the black darkness of the night, started to smile through our clenched teeth. It was as if the darkness had already ended because we weren’t afraid any longer. We’re safe, we shouted. They’re going to come back and pick us up, I said to Samuel. I’ll be able to watch the sea again from the land, I thought. After more than an hour we realized that no one was going to come and save us.

One mile from the coast of Lampedusa we set fire to a blanket to attract attention. It was like lighting a candle in a tomb. A light in the middle of nothing. But there was no other alternative. [twitter_share]The blanket caught fire and we got scared. We all rushed to one side and the boat capsized. Those of us who were still alive began to swim. There’s no point crying water in water. [/twitter_share]

After swimming for three hours I turned and saw that my brother had fallen behind. He said: “Go on, Zerit! Get to land. Call home”. He said: “Bye Zerit”. And I was on the point of fainting in the sea, I couldn’t swim for the two of us, I thought ‘it would be terrible for my mother to lose two sons in the same night – and I left my brother behind. I called: “Bye Samuel”. I, Zerit, am alive because my brother is dead. My last goodbye I said to him at the camp when they showed me a photograph of a body swollen with water. I who spent my life studying the sea, I’ve explored the seabed and recognized the voices of the seashells – did not recognise my own brother. So he died a second death. The day of the funeral I couldn’t wait for the result of the DNA test that would tell me: ”Yes, that’s your brother Samuel”.

Now those people from television are asking me if I’m sad, and if looking at the sea makes me sadder. But it’s you that have got to give me an answer. Tell me why I wasn’t at my brother’s funeral. It was like leaving him in the water a second time. So I abandoned him for a third time. At the refugee camp on the day of the funeral, to which we – brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers – were not invited, it took us a minute to decide and all come together.

When we realized that we couldn’t go to Agrigento, that there would be strangers who would be throwing flowers on shiny coffins of expensive wood, while there were still bodies trapped in the rotten wood of the boat, we understood that they were dying for a second time. We also forced the gates behind which they wanted to keep us locked up that day, we prayed 4 times towards the south, between our fingers we held wild flowers that grew around the camp, and when it came to the hour of the tragedy we all went down to the sea. It was the sea that I asked about Samuel. Hoping that it will reveal this last secret, or that at least his soul may return that day.

I don’t look at the sea any longer. I’ll go anywhere as long as it’s as far away as possible from this island, and Italy. I don’t want to live in a land where my brother was left to fall asleep exhausted among the waves. Don’t call us migrant victims; we are just survivors. I’m alive because my brother is dead. That’s the truth of it, and you haven’t said it yet out loud. Perhaps the Italians want to know, but even if they don’t, they have to hear it all the same. There are 157 stories like this in the camp. You should get to know them all.

Zerit was born in Eritrea 28 years ago. After graduating in marine science he decided to join his brother Samuel in Sudan, with him continue the journey towards Libia, and from Tripoli reach the Italian coast. Samuel died in the sea October, 3rd when he was about one hour away from the coast. Zerit arrived in Lampedusa.

A life as an invisible

My name is Hassan and I live at the Lingotto, even if everyone calls it EX MOI here, the place where the foreigners live. Perhaps nobody is interested to know how they live but I am one of them and so I want to tell you about it. It’s hard living here, day after day, without work, without heating, without hot water. We’re not hiding here, we came from the sea, to Lampedusa, to Pozzallo; we all have documents and this makes our situation even more absurd, and us more and more tired of it. I have often thought of going to another country, where you can live better, but we have left our fingerprints here and we’ve had to learn about the Dublin Convention and understand that we can’t leave Italy. The Convention kills and I ask myself how Europe can have a law that kills foreigners like us a little at a time, we are just poor people, we haven’t been able to live in our countries because of war and famine. How could we know that we would find the same on the other side of the Mediterranean. [twitter_share]At times when you are walking along you see that people have crossed  the road to the other side because they have just seen you, perhaps they are scared of the colour of our skins or we remind them of someone who robbed them once.[/twitter_share]

Among us there are good people and bad people and that’s the same among Italians too, but I don’t cross the road. This has no sense. Before Italy I had never seen anything like it. You feel like stopping and shouting: “ Come over here! I want to tell you about us!”, but perhaps they would hurry on even faster and so you don’t say anything and you think that it wasn’t the right time to say it anyway. I’ve decided that I want to write, to tell our story to everyone, even to us. Perhaps through poetry, or a theatrical work. I’m not going to write to become famous, my name is of no importance, I want everyone to forget it and remember only what I write and that it was written by one of us. I hope that many people who live like me will want to do the same. The truth about us is unknown, invisible, and many people don’t even ask themselves “why is that person grubbing around in the rubbish or collecting things that other people are not interested in any more?”. The truth about us is something that hurts, and that’s why nobody wants to know but we can’t wait any longer, we must find the best moment to tell it. Hassan is a Somali. He arrived at Lampedusa from Tripoli in 2008 and has lived in Turin since 2010. His dream today is to become a writer. He is currently working on theatrical monologues on the subject of welcome and integration.

Shaital is the devil

I’m telling the story of my journey. From Eritrea we followed a road towards Sudan and that’s where I was caught, at Khartoum. They caught us and arrested us. There were 24 of us – there were also 3 Syrians. We were 19 days in that place. After 19 days we arrived at Sabha. There were another 19 men there. There were Somalis waiting for us together with Eritreans and Ethiopians. We were kept hidden all day. We don’t know where we were held – in the Sahara you never know where you are. We were in the Sahara for three weeks. There were Somalis keeping guard over us. There were other men who had been kidnapped, I don’t know how many there were. They took everything from us, money, cell-phones, even our clothes. They beat us, and we were naked, they with their boots. The guards were Somalis and Sudanese.

For their ransom they ask the Syrians for 1,500 dollars, us 3,000 to 4,000 dollars. We don’t understand why. Why they make all this difference between us, if we have all been kidnapped. They are almost all of them black, from Libya and Chad. They sell us as if we were just so much meat. Then Libyans of another clan, with fair skin, took charge of us across the Sahara to half way. There were many women among us. The women they exchanged them among themselves as if they were playthings. For the women it is worse. They choose them, they take them, they do stupid things with them (they rape them). They say: “this one, this one and this one” and they become their personal entertainment. They don’t let them go. None of us say anything. You can’t say anything. They are armed, we are naked. So your heart bleeds for them and you can’t do anything. These men have diseases, they have HIV and don’t use any protection when they are doing their things. They ask you, Ethiopian or Eritrean? If you are Eritrean, you are Christian and so they treat you worse. You can’t react in the Sahara. If you react they shoot you in the knee, in the head, and leave you in the desert. They can make you disappear just how they like. We can’t go on any longer: we’ve got no strength left.

I don’t know the name of the person who sold us, a Libyan stood guard over us. Those from Chad caught the people. There are also Eritreans who do that job, they help them. Ethiopians as well. I can remember some names: Vereket, from Khartoum, Isha, an Eritrean whose job was on the telephone, Abu, a Somali, the one who delivered us at Fukru. What really scares me most is that they are Eritreans. That Eritreans are working with them, that they are selling their own people. They beat us too. We pay 3,000 dollars, others 4,000 dollars. Our families pay. I don’t know what the difference is between us and the others; it’s something horrible, they divide people into ethnic groups, because we pay more. The black-skinned Libyans sell us to the fair-skinned Libyans. First one of our girls became the plaything of the group, as if she were their woman. She never left with us. She stayed there to be their plaything. You don’t say anything not even then, you clench your fists, and just hope. After a month in the Sahara you can’t even speak, imagine if you can react. In the Sahara it’s like coming to the house of the Devil. There are many of us here who came out of the prisons. We were delivered into the Sahara. I can’t fit it into my head, what I saw there. They were on the phone all the time with one another. One with the other.

When we got to Libya, when we were on Libyan soil, I thought we had arrived. There I found another 150 people who had been kidnapped. In Libya they took the girls during the night and did what they wanted with them. The Somali under arrest was there. Anyone who tried to escape was kicked with boots in the head or beaten with a belt. What they did to the girls I don’t even want to say. They didn’t kill us because they needed us for their money.

The Somali who was arrested in Italy was there too. He’s not a person, he’s the Devil. The one who accompanied us for the last part of the way was called Shaital. I tried to escape, they caught me and said, ”See this bullet? It’s for you if you try that again”. It’s a pity I don’t speak Arabic, I would have been able to understand the many things that they said among themselves. In Libya if you escape you can’t go to the police because the police work with them. When they have your ransom money you are of no further use to them. There were 340 people at the port. In Libya they sell and peddle people. There’s no government. First you end up in the hands of those people from Chad or Somalia, then in the hands of the Libyans. They’ve arrested the Somali now, let’s hope that with time all of them pay. We left our souls behind while we were crossing the desert. Before we left in the boat they kept us near the airport, which is next to the army barracks. Everyone knows what goes on there, everyone can see. Everyone knows what happens, it’s like a school. I don’t know how many people were left behind or died. At times they ask for a ransom even for dead people and ask for the money for their crossing in the boat. I have heard prison warders asking relatives for money for people who were already dead. I knew at least seven or eight of them. Here in Lampedusa there were ten of us who had been kidnapped. Four men and six women. The four men are here, the six women were left at sea. They died at sea on 3 October.

This testimony was given by an Eritrean refugee in the Tigrinya language. It was translated by an Italo-Eritrean. The Tigrinya are mainly Christians and live in the region in which the Habesha culture developed historically.

I come from Central Syria

My name is Eyam. I arrive from 25 days. I’m living in a bad situation. Because they don’t told us how much we need to go out from the island, and it is not a human place and there is no food, there is no good food, no good sleeping, or anything, but the most thing is we need go outside of this island because we need to help our family in Syria. We are a singular. All everyone singular. But the marriage and all the other family in Syria. He doesn’t take care about himself, if he eat or nothing. He think about his family in Syria – they are in a dangerous situation. And they haven’t any food, they haven’t gas to make a fire, because Syria is in winter now, and it’s a cold country. So they told the manager of this camp, we don’t need food, we don’t need sleep here, we want to go out to find a good situation for family, for our family in Syria. They don’t listen to us, and don’t give us any promise, or any chance to go out of the island.
They doesn’t say any date, and when we ask him… every day, when we ask him every single day we want go, they told us there is no date. We are on strike on Lampedusa, for our good future, for me and for my family, or to the hospital, or to the dead. Or let us back in our boats. After the war in Syria they doesn’t refugees any Syrian people, because we had a beautiful country and beautiful life. But now Syria in now war. And our family there. We cannot take him to any place because all the world close the gates in Syrian face. And the Palestinian one… live in Syria.
I eat a bread, one bread, yesterday, but today no food, just water. My friend – two days without any food! Many people like us. The same date and the same position.
They haven’t a place to sleep, and to sleep good, so that they told the police and the manager of that camp, we don’t want food, we don’t want to sleep. Yes, just hunger strike, again from here, to a good future of from here to die or to the hospital. Because our family in danger. I am not happy to stay here and my little sister… I am not happy to stay here and my little sister and my mother and my father are in a dangerous situation. And the bomb maybe kill him at any moment.

This text was recorded at Lampedusa’s CIE at the beginning of November; at that time the centre had gone over its maximum capacity. As the Centre is only for initial screening, migrants should not be held there for more than 48 hours. Because of the delay in transferring them, some of them had decided to go on hunger strike

Fleeing Zimbabwe: “With the refugee status I had my life back”

Chenzira comes from Zimbabwe. In her country she was a teacher. When the charity institute she worked for was declared unwelcome by the regime, Chenzira became a political enemy in her own country and was forced to flee to save her life.

“I set off without even knowing where I was going nor who could help me. I decided to go all the same because the alternative was to wait and be killed. Most of the time I walked, keeping away from the main roads and trying not to use buses if I could help it. When I arrived at a small village next to the frontier I decided to go towards the nearest town, where I had heard it would be possible to join a group that like me was trying to leave Africa. I had to leave the continent, the Zimbabwean government has good relations with many African states and I couldn’t trust any government, any authority.”

As soon as she arrived in the town Chenzira was approached by so-called ‘agents’ who deal with people who like her intend to leave the country illegally. The journey to Europe costs a lot of money and you have to pay ‘blind’ because there is no way of choosing, or knowing even, what the final destination is going to be.

“During the journey you become a victim a second time, the agents can help you but on their conditions. We weren’t asked where we wanted to go, if we wanted to go to France, the UK or Holland, everything was decided by the traffickers depending on what suited them at the time.

I arrived in England, they dropped me off near a bus stop. I didn’t dare to speak to anyone so for two days I stayed there, sleeping under a bridge, without any money, without food. The second day I got to know some people who were going to Tesco, two women shared their food with me, they helped me and took me to a family that took me in for a time.”

Chenzira spent a few weeks in her new provisional home. During that time she was looked after, and given food and clothes, but above all she found the time to regain her confidence and trust in others, because it is not easy to still believe that someone can help you to start a new life, to plan the future all over again.

“At the time I had no idea what political asylum was and I found it difficult to tell the Immigration officers everything about what had happened to me. They kept asking me if I had planned to come to the UK and I tried to explain that I had planned nothing, I had escaped from Africa to save my life. Some of them think that you are trying to take advantage of the asylum system, but I was only asking for help and it offends you that they think you are lying. When I received my refugee status I felt as though they had given me my life back. I’m free, if I need help I know who I can turn to, but my life is in my own hands. I know what I want and I know that I can get it. So now I’m looking forward, I’ve wasted too much time, but I’m not trying to have back what I’ve lost, I want to go forward, my journey isn’t over yet.”

Chenzira obtained political asylum in 2009, and is currently living in the UK where she is studying for the qualification of social assistant. Chenzira decided to tell her story through the Scottish Refugee Council so that it can be of help and inspiration for other refugees who like her have had to leave everything behind and escape.

Yonathan: “In the torture camps I couldn’t even kill myself”

Yonathan comes from Eritrea. In his country military service is compulsory, and if you try and get out of it that is a crime punishable with years in prison. Despite the risks, Yonathan, 26 years of age, with a degree in information engineering, decided to leave his country as a ‘deserter’ and try and re-start a new life in another African country.

“My plan was to leave Eritrea as soon as possible. After University I would have had to join the army, but I refused. I went to Asmara, the capital, where I worked illegally and stayed out of sight. When some of my friends started to disappear I thought that I might be the next to go. I had to go, no matter where. I was born in Sudan and I know the language, so I decided to make for there. I knew there was a danger of being kidnapped so I decided not to get involved with the smugglers for my escape and count only on myself and the help of some friends. When we arrived at Kassala, in the eastern region of Sudan, men of the Rashaida ethnic group tried to capture us but there were six of us and we managed to fight them off, then Sudanese soldiers arrived and took us to the Shagarab refugee camp.”

At the refugee camp Yonathan and his friends realized immediately that they hadn’t been saved. The Rashaida came and went every day, checking on new arrivals, while the guards, who were supposed to be in charge of the security of the camp, pocketed banknotes and pretended not to see anything.

“Three weeks had passed since our arrival at Shagarab, it was morning and we were gathering firewood when they burst into the camp. They grabbed me and two other guys, loaded us on to their trucks and beat us up, then took us to somewhere up north of Kassala where we were put together with other Eritreans who had been kidnapped like us. In the following days other co-nationals joined the group, until we were ready to be considered a profitable number.

On the border with Sinai, the group, which had now become more than thirty people, was handed over to some Egyptians who took them in their boats to Aswan on the other bank of the Nile, and then on to Suez. They used a big truck to transport them, one of those that they use for poultry. Where they took them was the market, they were the goods.

“They divided us and handed us over to different traffickers. Me and another thirteen were taken to a torture centre where they asked us for 3.500 dollars for our release. They made us call our family two or three times a day and during the telephone call they beat us so that they could hear our cries on the other end of the line. My family and friends managed to put together the money and paid for me. When the money arrived they loaded us up in a car, we had been sold to another trafficker, he wanted 30,000 dollars, he had paid a lot of money for us, he said, and he had to have a return for his money.”

The second torture camp where Yonathan was taken was hell. The detainees were given a slice of bread a day and the maltreatment and torture was programmed. It was administered in such a way that the pain was greatest at the time of the daily telephone calls with families. There was also three women detained together with Yonathan, of whom one was pregnant, and they received the same treatment as the men.

“They hung us head down tied by the ankles, other times by the wrists and they poured molten plastic over us. After a week, one of the guys who had been kidnapped with me died, and I was in really bad shape. I had a broken wrist and my ankles lacerated by the chains that were too tight, I couldn’t see much and it was hard to stay on my feet. I knew that my family would never be able to pay 30,000 dollars for me so I lost all hope. I tried to commit suicide by slashing my jugular with a cable, but it was too old and rusty and didn’t work so I begged one of the translators who was an Eritrean to procure some poison for me, any poison that would help me to kill myself, but he refused to help me. I couldn’t help thinking of my mother who was receiving these calls, who didn’t have the money and who wouldn’t know what to do.”

It took the family three months to put together the money necessary to free Yonathan who was by now almost dead, almost always unconscious, too weak to walk and with his hands partially gangrenous owing to having been left hanging by his hands for too long. Yonathan does not remember much of his journey towards Israel, he fainted after a few steps and had to be carried by the men who were sharing this last tract guided by their new custodian, this time a Bedouin. The Israeli patrol that came across the group of refugees had Yonathan transferred immediately to a hospital where he remained for several months.

“I contacted my family to tell them that I was alive but I said nothing about the injuries to my hands. I had lost many of my fingers and those that remained I found it difficult to move, so I had practically lost the use of my hands. They told me that everything that was possible has been done, but more could be done with more advanced surgery. I spent more than a year in a refuge at Petah Tikva, east of Tel Aviv, I felt very bad because on the one hand I was happy to have survived, but on the other I thought that perhaps it would have been better if I had died because from now on I would have to depend on others. I had always counted on my own strength and had never had to depend on others. In Israel people like me they consider “infiltrators” and it didn’t matter how many times I repeated what had happened to me. With time I realized that I would not be able to request political asylum and that the law allowed the government to arrest me and detain me for more than three years. This situation was ghastly because after everything that I had been through I was being treated as a criminal. I wanted to leave but I didn’t have a passport, and I couldn’t turn to my Embassy because I was a deserter.

I was telling some journalists about what had happened to me when I met some European activists who invited me to Brussels in December 2013 to tell my story to the European Parliament.”

Today Yonathan is 28 and lives in Sweden where he is completing the procedure that will finally enable him to obtain refugee status. Thanks to a network of German donors he will be able to receive special surgical treatment for his hands as soon as his position has been regularized.

Daniel, 20, refugee: “Inside me, an endless tragedy”

Daniel arrived in Europe from West Africa. He was only 16 when a taxi set him down outside the building of the Scottish Refugee Council. At that time Daniel was completely alone in a strange world, he just about knew where he was and he didn’t speak a single word of English.

“I arrived in the UK accompanied by a man. He brought me from Africa to London and then on to Glasgow. At the station he paid for a taxi to take me to the SRC and left. Before leaving Africa I had never seen that man, it had been my uncle who had entrusted me to him, in order to save me. My father was a member of an opposition party and so he got away before the government could have him killed, but government agents came looking for him in our apartment, they arrested me, my mother and my brother and set our house on fire. They locked us up in a prison, then my mother was moved and I never saw her again. I don’t even know what happened to my brother, I managed to escape because my uncle knew one of the guards, but he didn’t manage to get us both free.”

Daniel was assigned to the social services and for eight months lived in a place for the homeless. Then after a few interviews at the Home Office he decided to fill in a questionnaire for those seeking political asylum.

“I didn’t realize how important it was to obtain asylum, ‘asylum’ was a word that confused me. I was a young chap, I was scared and my only thought was that I wanted to return home. Now I have revolutionized my life, I have been through school and I have a professional qualification, but what I’ve been through is always in my thoughts. Even now that things are going a bit better I still carry this endless tragedy inside me.”

Today Daniel is 20, lives in Glasgow and he has been granted political asylum. He decided to share his story through the Scottish Refugee Council, hoping that other people could get some help by reading it. The Red Cross is helping him to find his family.

Asylum-seeker life: in limbo, and we can’t work

In her place of origin, Congo Brazzaville, Patricia was a paediatric nurse and worked in the local hospital and her mother’s pharmacy. “She was killed by the Government,” says Patricia, “because she didn’t agree with what they were doing. Then her husband fled the country to save his own life, because he was also a member of the opposition party.”

Despite all the difficulties Patricia decided to stay on and bravely resisted for five years, but in her country the “political beliefs” of her family were a stigma that it was difficult and dangerous to carry. So, in 2003, Patricia too was forced to leave her country and decided to head for the UK to seek political asylum. “Initially they didn’t believe my story at the Home Office and refused me asylum. It’s so frustrating. As an asylum seeker you are not allowed to work and you’re not allowed to do any full-time courses. Living like that can make you go crazy.”

After spending her first few years in the UK going in and out of detention centres she moved to Glasgow, where thanks to the help and support of the Scottish Refugee Council she finally obtained political asylum and realized how many women like her still needed help and assistance. Today Patricia has become part of the Refugee Women’s Strategy Group, which helps women get information and advice about everything to do with asylum, and gives them strength from a psychological point of view.

“With our work we have changed things too. Now women seeking asylum in Scotland can ask for childcare when they are interviewed at the Home Office; that’s because we wrote a letter asking for that change. I myself am finally free from the Home Office but I want to continue being part of the Strategy Group in order to help other people. Here they’ve helped me to see that I’m not the only one.”

Berthe Patricia Nganga is 44 and comes from Congo Brazzaville. In August, 2011, she was granted political asylum. Today she lives in Glasgow where she is a member of the Women’s Strategy Group, which has the support of the Scottish Refugee Council.

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